Between June and July I took part in a very special blind-tasting organised by Niki, which he fittingly labeled “Rarity/ Antiquity/ Obscurity Tasting”. Niki is known for collecting DDR-rums but apparently many other interesting, old and odd bottlings have amassed in his cabinet over the years. All we’ve got to know beforehand is that none of the rums is commercially available anymore and that the filling level of some of the rums has decreased quite a bit. The blind-tasting was a great success and probably the most fun I’ve ever had in one. Here’s what we’ve had.
Crude “Very Old Barbados Rum” (West Indies Rum Refinery (Barbados), 47%): The rum looks like white wine and is not oily at all. In the nose I get mostly green grapes, wine, vanilla and alcohol. Then more and more grapes. It doesn’t smell good at all, even after giving it a lot of time in a covered glass. Palate: Again, grapes and wine. It’s slightly smoky. Then vanilla, cream and toffee. I really cannot find much more. The finish almost doesn’t exist… eventually I get the balm of my pediatrician. I couldn’t decide between Cuba’s Sancti Spiritus/ Paraíso distillery (the grapes) and a WIRD from Barbados (the smoke, vanilla and cream flavours). In the end I settled with Sancti Spiritus since the grapes are extremely dominant. The rum was very polarising, some liked it, others did not, me included. Interestingly, only one person has placed this higher than 42%. We couldn’t figure out who the bottler is (besides that it is Italian). It must have been distilled in 1977 but we couldn’t find out when it has been bottled, so if anyone can help us out it would be highly appreciated!
edit: Artur was very quick to inform us that the bottler has to be “Crude”, who has two bottlings registered at Référence-Rhum. Thanks a lot!
Tamure Rhum (Tahiti, 40%): This one had some of the funniest notes I’ve ever seen, ranging from “Sweetness, orange and cognac” (identically for nose, palate and finish) to Croatian plum liquor and an orange and vanilla infused “Living Bottle”. Anyway, I got ripe cherries, orange zest, sweet marzipan (the cheap version, you know) and sugar. The alcohol burns slightly even though the abv probably isn’t very high. This is not what I understand by “Rum” but I kinda enjoy the fragrance. The combination of harsh alcohol and the decent oiliness makes me believe that it might have been sugared. At the palate it’s very mild and round, quite different from the nose. Yes, this one probably comes with some additives. I taste peaches and apricots. Then orange jelly and marzipan but these associations mainly come from the nose. It’s very ladylike but decidedly better than its competitors in the artificial segment. At least right now I don’t mind it, but calling this rum is still a bit obscure. Now I also get pickled plums (Croatian liquor after all!?). Finish: Bitter orange zest and herbs. I guess this has been somehow fortified with (real) flavours. By the way, I thought this might have been an old Pyrat from Anguilla, from the times when the product might have been better (if it ever was, I don’t know…).
J.B.S. First Rate Rum (Jamaica, 54%): Another rum whose vintage and age we don’t know. Nose: Salt, rough herbs and butyrate. I didn’t like it at first but it gets better and better the longer you sniff. The taste is quite stale initially. Then I get herbs and something like a red wine finish. Again, I didn’t enjoy the taste too much at first but the rum starts to grow on me with every subsequent sip. It’s quite decent actually, really nice old school stuff. The rum seems to be very familiar right now. There are so many nuances in there that I believe I (should) know. A small Bajan touch à la Foursquare (brine and diacetyl, though I “know” that it cannot be Foursquare since this is probably older) and the typical Versailles wood chippings round off the rum. Somehow I can’t really decide whether to like this or not. My guess was a Navy blend from Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana (with 54% by the way ;p). The rum just has so many familiar facets.
Hana Bay Rum (Hawaii, 40%): Uhhh, this is bad. It smells like the cheapest of the bottom-shelf supermarket rums. I don’t get a lot, besides neutral alcohol of course. Perhaps with some small cask influence. It has to be Aguardiente! I cannot really pick out anything here. Maybe anise but that’s not much more than a guess. Palate: Not a lot. The few flavours I get are close to being disgusting. Red wine from the Tetra Pak (as a “flavour”)? This is awful. The finish is short (with very light red wine) but too long for my taste. I’m glad when the taste will have vanished completely. This stuff is so bad that I think it might come from everywhere since every rum producer might have started off like this. My guess is a Barcadi from its Cuban times. By the way, the backlabel of this bottle reads “Original Hawaiian Mai-Tai”. Poor Hawaiians I must say.
Bristol Classic Rum Providence Estate 1990 10YO (Trinidad, 46%): incredibly fat streaks flow back down at moderate speed. This suggest a certain maturity. The nose is very alcoholic and slightly smoky with a typical Spanish profile. I do have a hard time picking out any individual aromas. Some medicine, plenty of wood and a couple of herbs perhaps. Then brine/ diacetyl. I really have no clue where this is going. Let’s take a sip. It’s not nearly as high on abv as the nose suggests. Nevertheless, the alcohol is relatively sharp. My first associations are hot chilli peppers, cinnamon, vanilla and earthy notes. Then ginger. Let’s see whether we can find any of these in the nose. No… not really, except for the chilli peppers perhaps. The finish is not extremely long with spicy notes of ginger and chillies. I have no clue what this might be, I never had anything quite like this before. It might be old Bajan stuff but definitely nothing I could know. If this is a Spaniard it is decidedly different from the rums they produce today. Ultimately I settled on a very old Caroni (the Isla del Ron Caroni 1989 27YO had some similarities). Providence should be synonymous for the light Caroni style, but don’t take my word for granted. According to the label, “the Providence Estate, one of Trinidad’s oldest, lies near Chaunos [Chagunas, near Caroni – SCR], just south of the river Coparo. The distillery’s springs are prized for their rare mineral traces, which lend finesse to the characteristically light Trinidad rum”.
Isautier Rhum Vieux 20YO (La Réunion, 40%): Russet muscat. A thin oil film forms a crown inside the glass. I smell fresh herbs, sugar cane and grass, light notes of vanilla and coconut. A few agricole-like aromas and some liquorice are in there as well. Definitely interesting but perhaps a bit too light. The initial taste confirms my suspicion. The rum has a very light profile. I can taste herbs, vanilla, coconut, as well as flowers and some liquorice in the background. It is quite sweet and tastes a bit like a mix of cane juice and molasses based rum. The finish is short and unspectacular. The rum has a very interesting profile and I don’t think I have tasted a product from this distillery before. Or it is some very old stuff… Nevertheless, I don’t think this is something that I have been missing out on.
English Harbour Extra Old Antigua Rum 21YO (Antigua, 40%): And the last one. In the nose I get chocolate, coffee and glue. I’ve had it breath for more than three hours and it smells way better now than right after pouring it. I like it. After some time I also get herbs, esters and something rather cheesy. It has some similarities with column still Long Ponds. Palate: Quite sweet, then a lot of spices, notes that resemble Sherry (dried fruits and berries) as well as unripe mangos. It’s completely different from the nose. This might actually be my favorite bottling of this tasting. More power (i.e. more alcohol) and less sweetness might have upgraded it to a very good one. After a while more and more herbs. Finish: Very short unfortunately and without anything worth mentioning. A real weak spot. My guess was an old and unknown Jamaican from Rum Nations Supreme Lord series.
Even though I didn’t really enjoy most of the rums too much, the tasting was a great success. It was plenty of fun and tasting “ancient” rums was interesting and insightful. It was definitely more difficult than your standard blind tasting since it wasn’t really clear what to look out for and which rums to take into consideration.
What did we learn? Two things, basically. First, rum wasn’t any better in the past, quite the opposite actually. Many people crave for old bottlings. This might be interesting from a “scientific” or collectors point of view, but in general not from a connoisseur’s point of view. And this is not the first time that I’ve come to realize it. Second, not every expensive and hyped older bottling is worth it. The Isautier might be among the more sought after rums out there but as I noted down during my tasting “I don’t think this is something that I have been missing out on”. Similarly for the English Harbour. Don’t get me wrong, neither of them was bad and I liked aspects of them quite a bit but they aren’t great ones in my book.
My thanks goes to Niki for this very fun and instructive tasting session!